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A little less “muchness” in New York

The Yankees’ trade of Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela could make them better, but it also makes them less captivating.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Back in 2010, Disney did one of its patented live-action remakes of a classic animated film, and “Alice in Wonderland” hit American theaters right around this time. I’m not going to lie — it was underwhelming, and Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter was among its worst aspects. I don’t know who decided that it was a wise idea to have the Mad Hatter of all literary characters dawdle for far too much screen time and yet ultimately also wield a sword in some knock-off “Lord of the Rings”-esque CGI-filled final battle, but it was a poor life choice.

Anyway, buried in this forgettable movie and spoken by a character I loathe is a quietly effective line that appropriates something from the original tale: muchness. In this story, a slightly older Alice returns to the land she explored as a child and eventually runs into the Hatter. The following dialogue ensues:

HATTER: “You’re not the same as you were before. You were much more... much more muchier. You’ve lost your muchness.”
ALICE: “My muchness?”
HATTER: “In there. Something’s missing.”

The idea is not unique to this goofy 2010 screenplay — je nais se quois is an expression for a reason — but this specific instance sticks out in my mind for whatever reason.

Late on Sunday night, the Yankees traded Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela to the Twins for an intriguing return of Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Ben Rortvedt. Rest assured, we will have plenty of articles in the coming hours and days that will consider the ripple effects of this deal’s impact on the 2022 Yankees. Josh wrote a good one on the site a mere half hour of the news breaking on Twitter. We’ll have more specific remembrances of the departing players, as well.

Before the dust settles in the immediate aftermath of the trade though, I wanted to briefly consider the muchness lost in sending Sánchez and Urshela away. I’m not even outright down on the deal like some others in the Yankees’ orbit, but it does feel like Aaron Boone’s club will be missing something when they take the field and travel on that 162-game march without those two.

Sánchez was one of those rare birds, a 16-year-old prospect with explosive potential who actually seized it at the major league level. His mere journey to reach MLB stardom was wayward enough before even getting into the chapters of what happened between 2015-21. But he battled back from Double-A struggles to go on one of the greatest runs ever seen by a rookie in 2016.

The immediate adoration and home run heroics were beautiful to behold. It was tantalizing to imagine an idyllic road from that two-month eruption to the Hall of Fame, especially when he followed it up with an All-Star 2017 in the Baby Bombers’ surge to a near-World Series berth. Alas, there was frustration abound for the rest of his tenure, as Sánchez could never regularly hit those perhaps-impossible-to-match levels again and his defense slipped. There were a few excellent stretches, like the first couple months of 2019 that earned an All-Star spot, but otherwise, the “Kraken” was mostly boom-or-bust.

Yet that boom-or-bust potential added a fascinating storyline to each Yankees season — and every start, too. Could “El Gary” bring the old magic back? Each at-bat still carried the promise of something special. Sure enough, even in that dismal 2020, I will never forget watching a highlight of him commemorating my wedding day (in my mind, anyway) with a pinch-hit, tie-breaking grand slam to beat the Mets.

The odds of a return to El Gary’s 2016-17 form might have gradually faded, but nonetheless, that faint hope remained.

Urshela walked his own odd path, as he was not a highly-touted prospect and no one really noticed when he shuffled into the Yankees’ organization after three years with Cleveland and Toronto. Undeterred, he became arguably the story of the 2019 Yankees, the first and foremost “Next Man Up” who suddenly saved the Yankees’ bacon when their third baseman was lost for the year. The next thing fans knew, they were watching Urshela make web gems left and right at the hot corner, and with surprising pop at the plate, too.

Urshela played well in 2020, but like Sánchez, found that his star had fallen in 2021. Astute observers had already noticed that his glove was more flashy than effective, and now with a bat that floated just below league-average, he no longer seemed like the kind of third baseman who could be a vital contributor on a championship team. There’s a fine line between so-so and sensational, after all.

Again like Sánchez though, those sparks of brilliance from Urshela made him someone to follow, too. Maybe he wouldn’t hit as many homers or dazzle with as many plays ...

... but he could. You never knew.

Unpredictable players aren’t always the most enjoyable to watch. Hell, the joy of Mariano Rivera’s incomparable closing was that the vast majority of the time, you knew exactly what would happen. Such masters of the craft are few and far between though, so instead, we regularly watch as night-countless players step up to the craps table that is this difficult sport and roll the dice, hoping for the best.

I think that’s what I’ll miss most about Sánchez and Urshela, even in 2022. Through their remarkable stories, fun personalities, and sheer ability to occasionally strike gold at that craps table, they added a certain level of muchness to New York Yankees baseball. The Yankees’ roster is still star-studded, and it would be silly to say that there is no muchness at all — but there is a little bit less.

Perhaps the players acquired in exchange for this duo will eventually offer a more satisfying consistency; perhaps not. However, it will be tough for them to match the great heights that El Gary and Gio could reach in their brightest moments on a baseball diamond.